What is the World Economic Forum?

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  • Written By: Michael Linn
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 09 October 2019
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The World Economic Forum is a non-profit foundation made up of international leaders whose stated goal is to improve the world by shaping agenda at the global, regional and industrial levels. Members are also involved in research programs that seek to develop strategies for the sustainability of economic progress, assess global risk factors, and predict scenarios that may shape significant events in the future. Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, with regional offices in North America and Asia, the World Economic Forum seeks to be a premier catalyst for change.

Klaus Martin Schwab, a German business professor at the University of Geneva, founded the World Economic Forum in 1971 as a Swiss foundation. Schwab initially brought business executives from across Western Europe to a meeting in Davos, Switzerland, to encourage greater corporate responsibility instead of mere allegiance to shareholders and profits. Davos has since become the forum's regular annual meeting location. The foundation's mission has expanded to include a wider range of critical issues such as health, water resources and terrorism.

Three groups govern the forum, a foundation board, an international business council and a managing board. World leaders from the public and private sectors serve on the foundation board for three-year terms and set the long-term goals of the organization as a whole. The International Business Council serves as the brain trust and is comprised of 100 high-level executives and CEOs. Day-to-day management and financial oversight are provided by the managing board.


Unlike the World Bank or International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Economic Forum does not provide money to nations. It does, however, share the common ideology that global economic development creates better lives for the citizens of the world. The World Economic Forum is independent and not aligned with any political party, in regard to the issues they might address.

Membership in the World Economic Forum includes more than 1,000 leading companies and small businesses in both industrialized and developing nations. Many members play important roles in their respective regions, industries and nations. Government, education, religion, arts and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) also work closely with forum members to address global concerns.

Some of the initiatives proposed by the World Economic Forum include sustainable agriculture through public and private partnerships using market-based solutions. The forum also works toward global health systems to tackle HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. It also has joined with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and the World Energy Council to advocate for increased access to modern energy services in rural and impoverished regions by leveraging investment from the private sector.


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